What is the Sunda Colugo?

by, Jo Carol Hebert

This fascinating five-syllable-named mammal is known as a ‘flying lemur’. An odd animal (except to other ‘colugos’), it is neither a ‘true’ lemur (a monkey-like mammal); nor can it fly – but saying the name is a lot of phonic fun. Colugos are in a family of their own. There are only two species  – the Sunda Colugo flying lemur and the Philippine flying lemur (or Malayan colugo).

Did You Know: the ‘colugo’ family are:

  • Arboreal- tree-dwellers
  • Nocturnal – come out at night
  • Herbivores – eat plants
  • Folivores – leaf-eaters
  • Frugivores – fruit-eaters
  • Altricial – young are born helpless (precocial=can get up immediately and walk)
  • Gliders –  not free flying
  • Generally solitary – like to be alone

Who’s Shaking Those Trees?

The arboreal colugos forage for food in the tree canopies of the moist lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indo China, Philippines, and Cambodia). They are helpless on the ground and have to climb by gripping bark with sharp claws and slow-hopping up the tree.

Gliding from branch-to-branch and tree-to-tree, they actually have an ‘aerodynamic braking system’ to slow down for landings. They prefer certain types of tree leaves and also lick the bark for salt, minerals and other nutrients. They also like hanging out upside down beneath branches and were formerly classified with ‘bats’.

Adapting to the Changing Scene

The Sunda Colugo is a clever survivor as forests are rapidly turned into agricultural plantations in their environment. They take to the disturbed forest edges of the tilled fields and life goes on. Although they are IUCN Red-Listed as LC (Least Concern); their numbers are decreasing, due to deforestation for crops, logging, and local subsistence hunting. Also, the ‘plantain squirrels’ of oil palm plantations of the area compete for food and space. 

Colugos and other arboreal creatures of the rainforest are important to the continued replenishing of the rainforest. Because they eat fruit, plants and leaves, their excretions drop to the forest floor with seeds that grow foliage.

Born To Be Airborne

Sunda Colugos have a membrane skin (patagium) that extends between paired limbs and tail. This specialty along with webbed fingers and toes gives them that ability to ‘glide’ through the air (like the bats). They can glide 230 feet, which is almost 80 yards (a football field is 100 yards long).

At only 2-3 pounds, 14-16 inches long, plus a 10-inch tail, this frequent flyer gets around! They also have ‘binocular vision’ that allows them to focus forward with super eyesight. Good vision is important to be on the lookout for the most dreaded colugo predator – the Philippine eagle!

All In The Family

Baby colugos are called infants and are helpless for the first six months.  They weigh in at only 1.2 ounces at birth and cling to their mother’s belly. Mother can fold up the patagium to make a soft, warm pouch for infants, who are not mature for two or three years. A groups of colugos is called a ‘conspiracy of colugos’.

Did You Know About Other ‘Flying’/Gliding Animals?

  • Flying squirrels
  • Flying Paradise tree snake
  • Chinese gliding frogs
  • Gliding ants
  • Gliding fish

We hope you enjoyed learning about an animal that might be new to you. See other ‘odd’ animals in Smarty Pants archives: What is the Kodkod? and The Adorable Axolotl. Look for the next ‘animal you never heard of – What is the ‘Sarcastic Fringehead’, coming up next in Smarty Pants Magazine for Kids. Really, we’re not making this stuff up!

Take the Sunda Colugo Quiz

1. True/False…. They are arboreal.

2. True/False…. Arboreal means ‘they live in trees’.

3. True/False…. They are frugivores.

4. True/False…. Frugivore means ‘they eat fruits’.

5. True/False…. They are very good tree climbers.

6. True/False…. Colugos live in Canada.

7. True/False…. Colugos can fly like birds.

8. True/False…. A pantagium is a membrane skin for gliding.

9. True/False…. A football field is 100 yards long.

10. True/False…. Colugos are the only animals that can glide through the air.

How Did You Do?

10 out of 10 – You’re a “Super-Glider!”

5 to 9 – You’re a “Frequent Flyer”

1 to 4 – Just a “Climber”

None Right – You’re “Grounded!”

Categories: Animals

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